Book Review: The Taste of Salt

Book Review: The Taste of Salt

When doing book reviews I try to feature new, upcoming talent. I love the freshness and enthusiasm of new authors. But when I recently read, The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate I knew I had to do a review. The Taste of Salt is the story of Josie Henderson an African-American marine biologist who happens to come from a family where substance addiction has been prevalent for the past two generations.taste of salt

Josie moved away from Cleveland, Ohio years ago leaving behind the pain and ill memories of growing up with her alcoholic father, Ray. Later her brother Tick would struggle with that same addiction and then some. Although her father has since recovered and is now living soberly while trying to make amends with his damaged family, her brother Tick is right in the midst of his battle.

The story begins with her coming back to her hometown to release her brother from his latest stint in rehab. According to Josie, it’s the least she could do considering she has kept her distance from Cleveland and her family for many years. The city has deteriorated, and like her family it brings her shame and disappointment. She lives with her husband in the comfortable, quaint town of Woods Hole. We don’t know the exact location of the city except that it is near the ocean. She loves her job, loves the ocean as it is the place where she feels the most at home. It is the thing she has become the most connected to.

Upon releasing Tick from rehab everything changes. It is now that she begins to face the family demons from which she has run from for so many years. Her relationship with her father is strained at best. She has trouble accepting the fact that he is clean. There is so much pain and so much left unsaid. And although she was extremely close to her brother growing up, his addictions have damaged ties and neither of them seem to be able to fix them.

Her brother Tick struggles soon after his release from the facility, loses his job and stops attending AA meetings. Off the wagon again, his mother puts him out and he finds himself at Josie’s doorstop; no one else will deal with him. She hasn’t talked about her family much to her husband. How could he possibly understand? He has a white middle-class upbringing and no kind of experience with this kind of dysfunction. She has been able to avoid exposing this part of her life until now.  Here in Woods Hole Josie must face this generational demon if she is to save her brother–and herself. It is here where she must come to herself and face her own demons.

The Taste of Salt seamlessly alternates points of view from Josie’s, to Ray’s, and to Tick’s and back again. It is written mostly in first person and is told in manner in which a story is told to a dear friend. This narrator hides nothing. She glosses over nothing. She never pretends to find all of the answers.

But with poignancy she chronicles how it all begins with the slow death of unrealized dreams, life’s let-downs and, for reasons inexplicable, the urge to continue bad behavior at the risk of losing it all.

Southgate writes boldly, sometimes simplistically, but always engaging. The Taste of Salt is filled with heartbreak and hope. It is about family and the power that binds it. It’s one of those novels that settles itself deep into your soul and rests there until you are thinking of those characters long after the last page has been read.

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